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Jess said she never hesitated to support him when he decided to transition.

“It was absolute certainty to for me that I wasn’t going anywhere,” Jess said.

But he said he didn’t feel comfortable during his visits.

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"Cats needed to eat.” Near the fireplace, their 13-year-old cat Puss slinks under a three-paneled framed picture of the couple.

They met online in 2005, got married in 2012, and married again in 2015. “We wanted to make sure all the legal stuff was done,” he said.

For his gender reassignment surgeries, Alex traveled to Cleveland and Texas, but not every local transgender person can afford that luxury, he said.

“You’ve got to travel, you’ve got to get accommodations, you’ve got to pay for food, you’ve got to get a rental car,” he said.

“He’s a good person and loves people and cares about people and loves me in a way that I never expected I would find.

To me, that was everything.” In early 2014, Alex took the first step in his transition and began hormone replacement therapy at a local clinic.

“Pittsburgh is up there on the list for good doctors and cancer treatments and, you know, pretty much if you need it, it can be done in Pittsburgh, or that’s what most people think,” he said.

“Except when you’re transgender.” Pittsburgh received high marks for LGBT-friendly policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign, but not all members of the community feel the city has enough resources.

The ACLU-PA has recognized the dire need for more education and advocacy around transgender rights, especially given the lack of non-discrimination protections here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Trans Justice Program aims to pave the way for the passage of statewide, comprehensive non-discrimination protections, which is a top priority for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and an issue we have worked on for more than a decade.

“If there are complications, you have to go back to those cities.” A portrait of Alex and Jess Welker in their dining room taken during a church directory photography event.

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